16 Speaking  You do not have to be “TED talk material” or even an experienced programmer to give technical talks. Your presentations do not have to be lengthy or formal either, you can give a quick five minute talk (called a lightning talk) or one that lasts an hour. Public speaking is one of the best ways for your community to get to know you. . Start speaking at events as soon as you can. This is great for resumes and shows people that you can articulate your ideas, regard- less of the topic. My first talk was teaching people why and how to create blogs about their path to learning software development. We spent some time going over the benefits of having their own blog and then I had everyone sign up on Wordpress.com to create one right on the spot. We made a master list of the web addresses for everyone’s blogs so we could check up on each other and send encouragement. The talk turned out well even though I didn’t have a single line of code in the presentation. Do not let your fear of public speaking get in the way. The keys to getting over that fear are preparation and practice. This chapter goes over how to get started with speaking at local events and growing into presenting at larger technical conferences.  How to Get Started I recommend starting by finding a local meetup like Python or JavaScript or freeCodeCamp and asking them if they will let you present on something for a set amount of time. You could start by simply showing off a project you are working on for five to ten minutes and talking about your struggles and victories and what you learned. People want to hear your ideas. If you are open about your struggles, they will also be able to relate to you. After the talk, always ask for feedback and give people a way to reach you via email and social media. Tell the room about your plans and what stage you are at in learning to code. You will get a lot of encouragement and support from doing this. You will become more comfortable each time you speak. After the first couple of times, try creating a full-length technical talk, maybe something like ”Intro to React.js” or ”An In-depth look at Regex.” Shoot for 30-45 minutes of content, and make sure to leave time at the end for questions. It’s much easier to practice and prepare for a talk that is 30 minutes versus one hour or longer. If you finish early, ask the audience if they have any questions or bring up a new feature (related to the topic you presented on) that just came out and ask your attendees to discuss the pros and cons. If you can, always try to make part of the presentation interactive, even if it just means having a Q&A session at the end or asking people for their feedback or thoughts on the presentation. After you are more comfortable speaking at local meetups, where do you go from there? Apply to speak at regional, national, and then international conferences!  How to Speak at Conferences Conferences can be stressful even if you are not presenting, but speaking at one can really boost your career, help you network, allow you to  travel for (almost) free, and give back to others at the same time. I’ve given over a dozen conference talks in the last few years, so the following sections come from my own experience as well as the advice I’ve received from other experienced public speakers. Applying to Conferences Since it can be difficult to get accepted to your first conference, I recommend speaking at local events first. The people who run those groups are always happy to have volunteer speakers and the audience is much more forgiving when you are starting out. This is also a good way to meet conference speakers who can put in a good word for you with conference organizers. If you do not know any conferences speakers yet, announce at the end of your talks that you are looking for connections in the conference speaking world, and you are almost sure to get some leads. It’s also a good idea to try to record at least one of the local talks you give so you can use it on conference applications. Some local meetups have recording equipment already, so you can either find one of those meetings or find someone with their own equip- ment to borrow if you do not own any yourself. Over the last four years, I have had many of my meetup’s members offer to loan me recording equipment and I am sure you can find someone with a simple video camera and a cordless mic or two if you just ask. Before speaking at my first conference, I made lots of connections by presenting at local meetups and events. This not only helped me to boost my confidence, but also improve my speaking presence – eye contact, vocal projection, etc. These skills are impor- tant to develop before beginning to speak at conferences. After a few local talks, someone that I met recommended that I apply for a new, local conference. I applied and got in! Then one talk led to another and I started to get accepted at, or invited to, increasingly more domestic and international conferences. Here are some conferences I recommend applying to first: 1.Conferences where you have networked to get your foot in the door. If you know someone who can recommend you to the organizers, it is like starting off on the 50-yard-line for a 100-yard sprint. 2.Any local conference — They love to attract local speakers because it is, A:  cheaper, and B: better for local advertising and promotion. You can also usually connect with the people who run it beforehand and ask them  to give you a chance as a first-time speaker. 3.NDC conferences — These  are very well-run conferences that are hosted all over the world. They pay for your airfare, hotel, meals and some events, meals, and free admission to the conference. It is not just about the free stuff though, they attract top notch speakers and a wonderful community of people. I have personally been to NDC conferences in London, Sydney, and Minnesota. I plan on applying for many more in the future, so maybe I will see you at one soon! 4.Python conferences — The Python community is known for being very open and welcoming to newcomers. Many of the conferences are low cost or free and  you can sign up to give a five minute lightning talk if you just want  to get your feet wet. The people at all of the Python conferences I’ve  been to are so nice and will try to help you and give you feed- back on  what you can do better.  Making a Proposal Once you find a conference you want to apply to, you have to write a proposal for the talk and come up with a title. Most of the time, the requirements will be similar or the same so you can pretty much  copy/paste to reuse talk proposals. Here are some gen- eral steps to making good proposals: 1.Research the topic:  Usually, you can see a list of the speakers and talks from previous years on the conference website (unless it’s the first year, of course).  Take note of about what people spoke about and which topics were  underrep- repsented. Most of the speaker profiles will also link to contact information, so you can reach out to individual speakers and ask them their opinion on the conference and for advice on applying and getting accepted. If you are coming up with a new talk for the conference, I highly recommend connecting with speakers from previous years before you write your proposal. They will usually have insight into the kinds of talks that are most likely to get accepted at that particular conference. Keep in touch with them so you can ask for a review of your talk proposal as well. 2.Make a catchy title:  The title is the first — and sometimes only — thing attendees see when they are scrolling through a list of talks online or in the brochure at the event. It has to grab their attention, so conference organizers look for great titles when they are reviewing talks. Pick out some of the titles that pop out at you when you scroll through talks from previous years and keep a list of them for inspiration as you are making your proposals. 3.Create a proposal:  Make a quick list of things you will cover and in what order. Write down an overview of what the talk will be about and then make notes about what you want the audience to get out of the talk. Experienced speakers have always told me to talk to the audience in the proposal and tell them how they will directly benefit from attending.  From reviewing lots of talk descriptions in the past, I have found that starting the description with a question can pique  interest. Here is an example: “What if we could build apps that are not just functional, but also fun to use? Done right, gamification can vastly improve user experience as well as boost…” Some conferences will ask you to do an abstract as well as a description and some will ask only for a description and then truncate it if they need a shorter  ver-  ver- Either way, the method of writing the proposal takes about the same amount of time. 4.Ask someone to review it:  Several experienced speakers have helped me a lot over the years from reviewing my talk proposals, to giving me advice, to helping me practice. It can never hurt to ask someone for help. The title of my last  conference talk, “Game on! Gamifying your apps for fun and profit.” — and the idea for making it — came from an- other speaker I met  years ago who has helped me with encouragement and advice for almost  every talk I have given. 5.Save your proposal:  Many conferences manage their proposals with something like Sessionize.com or PaperCall.io so you can log back in and look at them in the future. Some conferences, however, have their own forms that you  will not have access to, so it’s best to save the title, abstract, description, tags, and any other information you enter in a sepa- rate location just in case.  Rejection Everyone gets rejected. It happens all the time, even to experienced speakers. You never know if it was because you are a new speak- er, or because the topic did not fit in with one of the tracks, or they might have had too many people applying to give similar talks. It is not personal, keep applying and you will get in somewhere. A good strategy when you are starting out is also to apply for multiple talks and then make a note that you only want to give one or two of the talks at the conference. That gives the organizers a chance to pick the ones they think will be the most enticing to attendees and you have a much higher chance of at least one of your talks get- ting accepted.  Planning & Preparation Practice the talk at local meetups first. If you have already been accepted, then you have to prepare the talk anyways — you might as well use it more than once! Reach out to local coding groups, coding bootcamps, or companies, many companies love to host ”lunch and learns”, and ask for feedback at the end. This will also push you to finish your talk materials early and give you time to iterate on them before the conference. When I am accepted for a conference, I like to make a map of what I have to get done and by when. Preparing for a talk is not easy. There is research to do, code to write, and slides to make. If you do not plan and start working in advance, the time for the con- ference will arrive with you scrambling to get everything done. This makes an already stressful situation even more stressful. Every talk will be different, but I generally find myself following similar steps to prepare. For example, I usually make a list of relevant  articles and books to read right away because that takes the longest. Once I have done some research and have lots of notes, I go through them and write out a detailed outline of what I will cover in the talk. Then, I decide what framework I want to use for my slides, and if I can reuse styles from someone else’s template, all the better. After that, I make some placeholder slides for each section of my talk and then work to fill in the details. Note: It’s a good idea to keep the description of your talk nearby where you can see it while preparing for your talk. This will help to make sure your content doesn’t diverge from what you promised the conference and your audience. Once I have the talk and slides almost ready, I start practicing it. This helps me find holes and inconsistencies that I might not notice while creating individual slides and sections one at a time. If the talk is longer than 30 minutes, it can be hard to practice the whole thing several times. In that case, I shoot for at least 3–6 complete run-throughs, depending on how well I know the topic. When you are practicing a long talk, it is easy to get distracted in the middle and not start back up from the same place you left off, so it is important to practice not only the beginning, but the middle and ending as well. In addition to preparing your talk, here are a few items to remember to bring with you to the conference: 1.Prepare cables for your laptop and any dongles just in case the conference doesn’t have the right ones for your setup (most will, but you never know). 2.Store a copy of your slides and any code in the cloud or on a thumb drive just in case something happens to your com- puter. If you are using slides.com,  google slides, or something similar, they have the ability to export as  html or pdf files. 3.If you are doing any sort of live coding, you should probably have a video or slideshow backup. All sorts of things seem to happen when you are on stage and it never hurts to be extra prepared. Video backups have saved me a few times. 4.Always have business cards to give out after the talk in case there is someone you want to connect with.  Arriving at the Conference When the conference rolls around, the best thing is to arrive at least a day early and get situated. This can help relax your nerves and feel more confident. I like to check out the conference venue in advance and make sure I know how to get there. I was late for one of my talks once because I got lost in a new city trying to get to the conference. I felt terrible about it for the rest of the trip. Make sure you prepare early and do not make this mistake. When you arrive at the conference venue, the first thing you will see is an information desk where you can check in and receive a speaker name tag or badge and whatever official swag they are giving out. If the room you are speaking in isn’t marked on your name tag, make sure to ask them so you know where it is and are not scrambling at the last minute. As a speaker, you will probably have access to a few rooms that other attendees do not. Most conferences have a tech check room where you can plug in your laptop ahead of time. Make sure you ask about this at the info desk if you can’t find where it is. There will also be a speaker room for you to work on your talk and relax or chat with other speakers.  This is probably the best place to go to meet people when you initially get there. It’s a relaxed environment and it’s great to start networking with other people in the speaker circuit as soon as you can. When I started going to conferences, I would hide in my hotel room during meals if I did not know anyone.Now I make myself sit at a table with other people and start a conversation, and in most cases the people I sit down with are usually just as awkward and nervous as myself. I have  met lots of cool people by just sitting at a table with them and asking a few simple questions.  On Stage If you are introverted, it can feel extremely overwhelming knowing you are about to go on stage and start speaking. In the past, I sometimes experienced panic attacks before giving talks. It’s just something you have to push through if you want to become a good speaker. Remember, everyone wants you to succeed, especially your audience. I like to go into the  bathroom beforehand and take a few deep breaths. Then I arrive at least 10–15 minutes early to get set up in the room where I will give my talk.  This will really help to calm your nerves. I once listened to a talk by Robert C. Martin — author of Clean Code — and asked him for speaking advice afterwards. He told me that I have to believe that I am the expert in the room and the audience is stuck there listening to me no matter what, so I might as well have fun with it. It was a simple thing to say, but that advice made an impression on me and my speaking improved after that. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Everyone has good and bad speaking days.  It can be a good idea to lead off the talk by saying that it’s your first conference and that you really appreciate XYZ conference for allowing you to come and speak. It’s always a good thing to start off by getting your audience to relate to you somehow, and that will probably make you feel more comfortable too. If I have more than a few minutes left at the end of my talk, I will ask the room for questions and try to answer them in front of everyone. Otherwise, I will wrap up and tell attendees that I would love to answer their questions or talk to them afterwards. There may be times when you only have a few or even no attendees.  I’ve personally seen this happen to two very experienced speakers. Sometimes, it’s a topic that people aren’t interested in, or there is another famous speaker scheduled at the same time as you, or it was just a bad time of day (early in the morning after people went out the night before, or at the end of the day when peo- ple are worn out). Do not feel bad, if it happens, make sure you wait 10-15 minutes and then either stay in the room to practice your talk anyways or take the opportunity to see someone else’s presentation.  Afterwards You are done! Almost… Be sure to stay around for questions and discussion. If  there is another talk after yours in the same room, just say you’ll be  in the hallway after. It’s a great feeling to finish and then have people tell you thanks and give you compliments. Do not forget to thank the conference organizers for allowing you to attend and give a talk. If you do not want to do it in person, a ”thank you” email is great too. Tweet or write about your experience on your blog.  Conclusion Do not be afraid to speak at meetups and conferences. It’s a great way to improve your  speaking skills, network with lots of new people, and travel, among other benefits. I  hope to meet many of you at conferences in the future. If you are going to give a conference talk, please Tweet about it so I can see: @faradayacademy. Action Steps:  1.Reach out to a meetup organizer and ask to present about a project you are working on. 2.After the first few presentations, prepare a talk and schedule to give it at a local meetup. 3.Apply to speak at your first conference. 4.Leverage your conference speaking experience to give talks at more conferences and continue speaking!